What It's Actually Like to Have Kate Middleton's 'Severe Morning Sickness'

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kate middleton
Chris Jackson/Getty

I have the official china released for both of the royal births. Each is a tasteful plate, gold-edged, listing a birth date, a first name, and title: H.R.H. Prince George of Cambridge, and H.R.H. Princess Charlotte of Cambridge (His and Her Royal Highness, respectively). I'm not normally one to follow the outrageous fortunes of British monarchy. But these two royal babies are special to me, because I know what Duchess Kate paid for them, and what she'll pay for her most recent pregnancy. Just like during her first two pregnancies, Kate is suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) -- and I know how dearly she's paying for it, because I did it three times.

Hyperemesis is always hell, be it a mild case or a terrible one. The Hyperemesis Education and Research (HER) foundation says the disease is "a severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy ... generally described as unrelenting, excessive pregnancy-related nausea and/or vomiting that prevents adequate intake of food and fluids." It can lead to, among other things, dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, and difficulty with daily activities -- which is a vast understatement.

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Most women with HG have trouble even leaving their beds, and that can include getting to the bathroom. This is not the morning sickness that yields to some ginger tea; in fact, if you want an HG mama to summon the strength to punch you, ask her if she's tried eating crackers to settle her stomach.

Hyperemesis gravidarum has forced a premature pregnancy announcement by Kate Middleton -- since she's not yet hit the traditional 12-week mark -- because the duchess was forced to cancel an event at Hornsey Road Children's Centre this week, according to CNN. She's being cared for at the family home in Kensington Palace, just as she was during the early weeks of her pregnancies with both George and Charlotte.

But the fact that she's home doesn't mean her HG is less severe. In fact, the HER foundation quotes Dr. Mari-Kim Bunnell, a Harvard obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology professor, as saying, "I do tell my patients that it does get worse every pregnancy." Dr. Jennifer Ashton, medical correspondent for ABC News, agrees. "Sometimes subsequent pregnancies have it starting sooner, lasting longer and being more severe," she told ABC.

That was my case. Kate had George only two months before I popped out my youngest, Sunny, so, in a sense, we went through HG together -- her for the first time, and me for the third. I probably should have been hospitalized during my second pregnancy, but we managed to narrowly avoid it. With my third, however, I was vomiting at two weeks post-conception, during a visit to see my in-laws, who were not supposed to know about my pregnancy. By four weeks, I was on the phone with my OB, listing the drugs that had worked before and begging for them. At six weeks, despite three different medications, I landed in the hospital overnight and stayed hooked up to an IV for dehydration.

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For two months, when I wasn't vomiting, I slept. The medications I took made me groggy, and it's hard to have any energy whatsoever when you're not able to hold down any nutrition. I missed Easter. I remember sobbing hard in my bed while I listened to my husband hide eggs in the yard before the kids woke up, then weeping while they hunted eggs and squealed over filling baskets. He dressed them up and took them to church, and I stayed home in bed, alone, crying and crying. I missed so much.

And I'm just a normal person, one with tiny people depending on me, but I had a husband working as a university professor, a pretty flexible job that kept them in a regular routine. I could afford to disappear from life for a small amount of time without leaving much of a mark. But Kate Middleton? She's a royal with a royal calendar full of duties, a member of a family that calls itself "The Firm" and sees its raison d'être as unflinching service to the British people. And she's stuck in bed. 

I can't imagine how guilty she feels, not only over missing her children -- she's already in line to miss George's first day of school on Thursday -- but over missing all the royal duties that have surely piled up since Prince Philip retired from public appearances this summer. As Prince William said in his first public appearance since the pregnancy announcement, "There's not much sleep going on at the moment ... We need Catherine to get over this first bit and then we can start celebrating. It's always a bit anxious to start with, but she's well."

As Newsweek reports, symptoms of HG can improve after 20 weeks -- and I was lucky that mine did. Mostly, that meant that my medication suddenly worked. Sure, I still vomited, stayed highly sensitive to food and smells, and was a terribly picky eater, but I wasn't lurching to the bathroom and vomiting so hard I peed myself multiple times a day. My best friend, on the other hand, suffered from HG -- with anti-nausea med Zofran from an intravenous pump -- all the way until she delivered. One can only hope that Kate's pregnancy is more like mine, less like hers.

Before Kate Middleton went public about her experiences with hyperemesis gravidarum, many people had never heard of it. Many assumed the moms who suffered from it were simply exaggerating. So I treasure that china, especially Prince George's, because it reminds me that someone else knows what I went through. Someone else suffered the way I suffered, and probably worse. I know the price Kate paid for those children, and so I honor them. Not as future monarchs. Not as British royalty. But as the fruit of hard, draining pregnancies.

We are, no doubt, happy for the prospect of a new baby. And I congratulate them, I really do. Nothing is better than babies. But we can't ignore the hard work and even suffering it can sometimes take to bring them here.

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